With the ubiquity of blogs, one of the questions we hear the most is how to come up with the right topics for new posts. In today’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand explores six different paths to great blog topic ideas, and tells you what you need to keep in mind before you start.
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Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to chat about blog post ideas, how to have great ones, how to make sure that the topics that you’re covering on your blog actually accomplish the goals that you want, and how to not run out of ideas as well.
The goals of your blog
So let’s start with the goals of a blog and then what an individual post needs to do, and then I’ll walk you through kind of six formats for coming up with great ideas for what to blog about. But generally speaking, you have created a blog, either on your company’s website or your personal website or for the project that you’re working on, because you want to:
Attract a certain audience, which is great.
Capture the attention and amplification, the sharing of certain types of influencers, so that you can grow that audience.
Rank highly in search engines. That’s not just necessarily a goal for the blog’s content itself. But one of the reasons that you started a blog is to grow the authority, the ranking signals, the ability to rank for the website as a whole, and the blog hopefully is helping with that.
Inspire some trust, some likeability, loyalty, and maybe even some evangelism from your readers.
Provide a reference point for their opinions. So if you are a writer, an author, a journalist, a contributor to all sorts of sources, a speaker, whatever it is, you’re trying to provide a home for your ideas and your content, potentially your opinions too.
Covert our audience to take an action. Then, finally, many times a blog is crafted with the idea that it is a first step in capturing an audience that will then take an action. That could be buy something from you, sign up for an email list, potentially take a free trial of something, maybe take some action. A political blog might be about, “Call your Congress person.” But those types of actions.
What should an individual post do?
From there, we get into an individual post. An individual post is supposed to help with these goals, but on its own doesn’t do all of them. It certainly doesn’t need to do more than one at a time. It can hopefully do some. But one of those is, generally speaking, a great blog post will do one of these four things and hopefully two or even three.
I. Help readers to accomplish a goal that they have.
So if I’m trying to figure out which hybrid electric vehicle should I buy and I read a great blog post from someone who’s very, very knowledgeable in the field, and they have two or three recommendations to help me narrow down my search, that is wonderful. It helps me accomplish my goal of figuring out which hybrid car to buy. That accomplishment of goal, that helping of people hits a bunch of these very, very nicely.
II. Designed to inform people and/or entertain them.
So it doesn’t have to be purely informational. It doesn’t have to be purely entertainment, but some combination of those, or one of the two, about a particular topic. So you might be trying to make someone excited about something or give them knowledge around it. It may be knowledge that they didn’t previously know that they wanted, and they may not actually be trying to accomplish a goal, but they are interested in the information or interested in finding the humor.
III. Inspiring some amplification and linking.
So you’re trying to earn signals to your site that will help you rank in search engines, that will help you grow your audience, that will help you reach more influencers. Thus, inspiring that amplification behavior by creating content that is designed to be shared, designed to be referenced and linked to is another big goal.
IV. Creating a more positive association with the brand.
So you might have a post that doesn’t really do any of these things. Maybe it touches a little on informational or entertaining. But it is really about crafting a personal story, or sharing an experience that then draws the reader closer to you and creates that association of what we talked about up here — loyalty, trust, evangelism, likeability.
6 paths to great blog topic ideas
So knowing what our blog needs to do and what our individual posts are trying to do, what are some great ways that we can come up with the ideas, the actual topics that we should be covering? I have kind of six paths. These six paths actually cover almost everything you will read in every other article about how to come up with blog post ideas. But I think that’s what’s great. These frameworks will get you into the mindset that will lead you to the path that can give you an infinite number of blog post ideas.
1. Are there any unanswered or poorly answered questions that are in your field, that your audience already has/is asking, and do you have a way to provide great answers to those?
So that’s basically this process of I’m going to research my audience through a bunch of methodologies, going to come up with topics that I know I could cover. I could deliver something that would answer their preexisting questions, and I could come up with those through…
Surveys of my readers.
In-person meetings or emails or interviews.
Informal conversations just in passing around events, or if I’m interacting with members of my audience in any way, social settings.
Keyword research, especially questions.
So if you’re using a tool like Moz’s Keyword Explorer, or I think some of the other ones out there, Ahrefs might have this as well, where you can filter by only questions. There are also free tools like Answer the Public, which many folks like, that show you what people are typing into Google, specifically in the form of questions, “Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Do?” etc.
So I’m not just going to walk you through the ideas. I’m also going to challenge myself to give you some examples. So I’ve got two — one less challenging, one much more challenging. Two websites, both have blogs, and coming up with topic ideas based on this.
So one is called Remoters. It’s remoters.net. It’s run by Aleyda Solis, who many of you in the SEO world might know. They talk about remote work, so people who are working remotely. It’s a content platform for them and a service for them. Then, the second one is a company, I think, called Schweiss Doors. They run hydraulicdoors.com. Very B2B. Very, very niche. Pretty challenging to come up with good blog topics, but I think we’ve got some.
Remote Worker: I might say here, “You know what? One of the questions that’s asked very often by remote workers, but is not well-answered on the internet yet is: ‘How do I conduct myself in a remote interview and present myself as a remote worker in a way that I can be competitive with people who are actually, physically on premises and in the room? That is a big challenge. I feel like I’m always losing out to them. Remote workers, it seems, don’t get the benefits of being there in person.'” So a piece of content on how to sell yourself on a remote interview or as a remote worker could work great here.
Hydraulic doors: One of the big things that I see many people asking about online, both in forums which actually rank well for it, the questions that are asked in forums around this do rank around costs and prices for hydraulic doors. Therefore, I think this is something that many companies are uncomfortable answering right online. But if you can be transparent where no one else can, I think these Schweiss Doors guys have a shot at doing really well with that. So how much do hydraulic doors cost versus alternatives? There you go.
2. Do you have access to unique types of assets that other people don’t?
That could be research. It could be data. It could be insights. It might be stories or narratives, experiences that can help you stand out in a topic area. This is a great way to come up with blog post content. So basically, the idea is you could say, “Gosh, for our quarterly internal report, we had to prepare some data on the state of the market. Actually, some of that data, if we got permission to share it, would be fascinating.”
We can see through keyword research that people are talking about this or querying Google for it already. So we’re going to transform it into a piece of blog content, and we’re going to delight many, many people, except for maybe this guy. He seems unhappy about it. I don’t know what his problem is. We won’t worry about him. Wait. I can fix it. Look at that. So happy. Ignore that he kind of looks like the Joker now.
We can get these through a bunch of methodologies:
Research, so statistical research, quantitative research.
Crowdsourcing. That could be through audiences that you’ve already got through email or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn.
Insider interviews, interviews with people on your sales team or your product team or your marketing team, people in your industry, buyers of yours.
Proprietary data, like what you’ve collected for your internal annual reports.
Curation of public data. So if there’s stuff out there on the web and it just needs to be publicly curated, you can figure out what that is. You can visit all those websites. You could use an extraction tool, or you could manually extract that data, or you could pay an intern to go extract that data for you, and then synthesize that in a useful way.
Multimedia talent. Maybe you have someone, like we happen to here at Moz, who has great talent with video production, or with audio production, or with design of visuals or photography, or whatever that might be in the multimedia realm that you could do.
Special access to people or information, or experiences that no one else does and you can present that.
Those assets can become the topic of great content that can turn into really great blog posts and great post ideas.
Remote Workers: They might say, “Well, gosh, we have access to data on the destinations people go and the budgets that they have around those destinations when they’re staying and working remotely, because of how our service interacts with them. Therefore, we can craft things like the most and least expensive places to work remotely on the planet,” which is very cool. That’s content that a lot of people are very interested in.
Hydraulic doors: We can look at, “Hey, you know what? We actually have a visual overlay tool that helps an architect or a building owner visualize what it will look like if a hydraulic door were put into place. We can go use that in our downtime to come up with we can see how notable locations in the city might look with hydraulic doors or notable locations around the world. We could potentially even create a tool, where you could upload your own visual, photograph, and then see how the hydraulic door looked on there.” So now we can create images that will help you share.
3. Relating a personal experience or passion to your topic in a resonant way.
I like this and I think that many personal bloggers use it well. I think far too few business bloggers do, but it can be quite powerful, and we’ve used it here at Moz, which is relating a personal experience you have or a passion to your topic in some way that resonates. So, for example, you have an interaction that is very complex, very nuanced, very passionate, perhaps even very angry. From that experience, you can craft a compelling story and a headline that draws people in, that creates intrigue and that describes something with an amount of emotion that is resonant, that makes them want to connect with it. Because of that, you can inspire people to further connect with the brand and potentially to inform and entertain.
There’s a lot of value from that. Usually, it comes from your own personal creativity around experiences that you’ve had. I say “you,” you, the writer or the author, but it could be anyone in your organization too. Some resources I really like for that are:
Photos. Especially, if you are someone who photographs a reasonable portion of your life on your mobile device, that can help inspire you to remember things.
Ajournal can also do the same thing.
Conversations that you have can do that, conversations in person, over email, on social media.
Travel. I think any time you are outside your comfort zone, that tends to be those unique things.
Remote workers: I visited an artist collective in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I realized that, “My gosh, one of the most frustrating parts of remote work is that if you’re not just about remote working with a laptop and your brain, you’re almost removed from the experience. How can you do remote work if you require specialized equipment?” But in fact, there are ways. There are maker labs and artist labs in cities all over the planet at this point. So I think this is a topic that potentially hasn’t been well-covered, has a lot of interest, and that personal experience that I, the writer, had could dig into that.
Hydraulic doors: So I’ve had some conversations with do-it-yourselfers, people who are very, very passionate about DIY stuff. It turns out, hydraulic doors, this is not a thing that most DIYers can do. In fact, this is a very, very dramatic investment. That is an intense type of project. Ninety-nine percent of DIYers will not do it, but it turns out there’s actually search volume for this.
People do want to, or at least want to learn how to, DIY their own hydraulic doors. One of my favorite things, after realizing this, I searched, and then I found that Schweiss Doors actually created a product where they will ship you a DIY kit to build your own hydraulic door. So they did recognize this need. I thought that was very, very impressive. They didn’t just create a blog post for it. They even served it with a product. Super-impressive.
4. Covering a topic that is “hot” in your field or trending in your field or in the news or on other blogs.
The great part about this is it builds in the amplification piece. Because you’re talking about something that other people are already talking about and potentially you’re writing about what they’ve written about, you are including an element of pre-built-in amplification. Because if I write about what Darren Rowse at ProBlogger has written about last week, or what Danny Sullivan wrote about on Search Engine Land two weeks ago, now it’s not just my audience that I can reach, but it’s theirs as well. Potentially, they have some incentive to check out what I’ve written about them and share that.
So I could see that someone potentially maybe posted something very interesting or inflammatory, or wrong, or really right on Twitter, and then I could say, “Oh, I agree with that,” or, “disagree,” or, “I have nuance,” or, “I have some exceptions to that.” Or, “Actually, I think that’s an interesting conversation to which I can add even more value,” and then I create content from that. Certainly, social networks like:
Subreddits. I really like Pocket for this, where I’ll save a bunch of articles, and then I’ll see which one might be very interesting to cover or write about in the future. News aggregators are great for this too. So that could be a Techmeme in the technology space, or a Memeorandum in the political space, or many others.
Remote workers: You might note, well, health care, last week in the United States and for many months now, has been very hot in the political arena. So for remoters, that is a big problem and a big question, because if your health insurance is tied to your employer again, as it was before the American Care Act, then you could be in real trouble. Then you might have a lot of problems and challenges. So what does the politics of health care mean for remote workers? Great. Now, you’ve created a real connection, and that could be something that other outlets would cover and that people who’ve written about health care might be willing to link to your piece.
Hydraulic doors: One of the things that you might note is that Eater, which is a big blog in the restaurant space, has written about indoor and outdoor space trends in the restaurant industry. So you could, with the data that you’ve got and the hydraulic doors that you provide, which are very, very common, well moderately common, at least in the restaurant indoor/outdoor seating space, potentially cover that. That’s a great way to tie in your audience and Eater’s audience into something that’s interesting. Eater might be willing to cover that and link to you and talk about it, etc.
The last two, I’m not going to go too into depth, because they’re a little more basic.
6. Readers who care about my topics also care about ______________?
Essentially taking any of these topics, but applying one level of abstraction. What I mean by that is there are people who care about your topic, but also there’s an overlap of people who care about this other topic and who also care about yours.
hydraulic doors: People who care about restaurant building trends and hydraulic doors has a considerable overlap, and that is quite interesting.
Remote workers: It could be something like, “I care about remote work. I also care about the gear that I use, my laptop and my bag, and those kinds of things.” So gear trends could be a very interesting intersect. Then, you can apply any of these other four processes, five processes onto that intersection or one level of an abstraction.
All right, everyone. We have done a tremendous amount here to cover a lot about blog topics. But I think you will have some great ideas from this, and I look forward to hearing about other processes that you’ve got in the comments. Hopefully, we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
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